Friday morning on my way to the office, I was praying about the day ahead when something unexpected happened.
God interrupted me.
It wasn’t audible. But he said my name and I heard him. To sense God right there in my car was awesome.
And to be honest, I was a bit unsettled.
I’m not alone. Scripture is full of people who felt the same way when they encountered God. Many live with ambivalence about God’s nearness, perhaps especially those struggling with sins or weaknesses they haven’t been able to change.
Here are three reasons:
1. We’re exposed. He’s solid in a way we’re not. Before God, we’re naked. Nothing hidden. The book of Hebrews says, “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
2. We’re ashamed. God is holy and in front of him we can feel in our bones we’re not. It’s unbearable. So much so that even the most powerful will cry to the mountains, “Fall on us an hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne” (Rev. 6:16).
3. We doubt. We may know in our heads what’s true, but we have what some call a “head-heart split.” Meaning, while we know God is loving, on a deeper level, we have real questions about whether he loves me.
In light of 1 – 3, we try to protect ourselves with an interior posture that says God is not near, or at least not really paying attention. And we can hold this posture, refusing to look him in the face, even while in church, while praying, while serving him, while working in Christian ministry.
Dallas Willard put it this way: “When God stands before us, we stand before Him. Refusing to worship him is a way of trying to avoid his face and his eyes.”
This situation is not irredeemable. God can save us from this tendency just like he can save us from every other affliction. The real danger is that we’d settle for a God-is-distant Christianity as though it’s Christianity at all.
I’m not suggesting we’ll always feel his presence, always hear his voice, or never experience any doubt. But I am saying that the normal life Jesus intends for each of us is a “with-God” life, one where we’re increasingly turning toward or abiding in his presence, moment by moment.
For me, a first step when I find I’ve been living otherwise is to cry out like the father in Mark 9: “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” Or as some translations express, “Help me to believe more!” In other words, it doesn’t begin with me vowing to try harder to remember he’s there. It begins with him.
And it also means pressing toward him at times even while I feel exposed, ashamed, and doubtful he cares. Even if being near him means I’ll be undone.
As I do, I may find I am indeed exposed and I do indeed have reason to be ashamed.
But I’ll also find that all my doubts about his love are unfounded. That the cross of Christ is indeed for me. That all along he has been wanting to move me from death to life.
Dallas Willard again: “The effect of standing before God by welcoming him before us will, by contrast, be the transformation of our entire life.”
This is why he was in my car on the way to work. This is why he’s with you now. The only question that remains is whether we’ll turn toward him, or push ourselves away.